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The Holocaust History Project.
The Holocaust History Project.

Cooperation and Resistance of Jews


I'm doing a paper about the holocaust and one of the questions that I can't seem to find supporting proofs is this ....How and why did European Jews cooperate in their own destruction? I need to focus on how Jews resisted the Nazis. Thanks and I appreciate it!

Yale F. Edeiken answers:

I am one of the people who answers questions for The Holocaust History Project. I will attempt to answer your question "How and why did European Jews cooperate in their own destruction?" and request that we focus upon Jewish resistance. I will, as well, give you a few good books to help with your research.

When historians began to study the Holocaust, the accepted opinion was that there was little Jewish resistance to the Nazi threat. This attitude has changed over the years as new documents have come to light and older ones have been re-examined. The most famous act of resistance was the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto which began on January 18, 1943. The valiant stand of the Jews in Warsaw has been related in several novels including "Mila 18" by Leon Uris.

Warsaw was not alone in fighting back. On January 1, 1942, Abba Kovner began a resistance group in the Vilna ghetto with a proclamation that began "Let's not allow ourselves to be led like sheep to the slaughter." There were active resistance groups Bialystock, Minsk, Kovno, Lodz, and other ghettos. By the end of the Nazi occupation of the Soviet Union it is now estimated that there were over 300 partisan detachments led by Jews. This number was, by historians, because many of the leaders took Russian names.

Resistance was present even in the concentration camps. There was a large underground organization even in Auschwitz and there were at least uprisings. The most famous of these was the uprising at Sobibor, an extermination camp in Poland. One of the best books on how the Jews reacted to the Holocaust and why they did not resist sooner is:

  • Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders by Raul Hilberg (1992)

Three general histories which deal extensively with Jewish resistance are;

  • The War Against the Jewsby Lucy Dawidowicz (1975)

  • The Holocaust in History by Michael Marrus (1987) The Holocaust by Martin Gilbert (1985)

Three books that will help you understand Jewish resistance are:

  • They Fought Back edited by Yuri Suhl (1975)

  • Soldiers from the Ghetto by Shalom Cholawski (1980)

  • Resistance:The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Israel Gutman (1994)

Good luck with your project and I hope these references will be of assistance in your research.

Yale F. Edeiken
for The Holocaust History Project

Another Question

I am a student at ... University and taking a class of social structures at various times in history. The teacher mentioned the role of the Jewish Council in helping fill the trains from the Ghetto's to the Concentration Camps. Can you suggest some books/articles, that would expand on this topic.

Gord McFee answers:

Hi, Doug. I am one of the volunteers who tries to answer these questions. Perhaps the best books on this subject are Martin Gilbert's The Holocaust which deals with the subject in depth and Lucy Dawidowicz's The War Against the European Jews, which devotes The whole second half of the book to the reaction of the Jews to the Holocaust. Might I also suggest Raul Hilberg's Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders.

Good luck.

Gord McFee

Another Question

I am doing a speech on the holocaust. I want to find some general information on living conditions (food, labor, housing) in the ghettos and the concentration camps. The third point of my speech will be about Jewish Resistance and the part it played in the war. So, I would also appreciate some brief information on that.

Yale F. Edeiken answers:

Hello. I am one of the people who answers questions for The Holocaust History Project.

The history of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust has changed radically over the past few years. The initial reaction of historians was that "The reaction pattern of the Jews is characterized by almost complete lack of resistance . . ." (Hilberg The Destruction of the European Jews 1961). Hilberg, however, was relying heavily on German sources which, we now know that the resistance was far more active and far more wide-spread than previously thought. As one historian noted "The Uprising of the Warsaw ghetto, the rebellion of other ghettos, and the role of the Jewish partisan movement erased the stereotype of the passive Jews of the Diaspora. The stereotype was widely held and false. It no longer reflected the attitude of modern society in Europe on the eve of the Holocaust" (Gutman; Resistance; page 257)

We now know that the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto was not unique. There was some form of resistance in virtually every ghetto and even in many concentration camps. There are an estimated 200 partisan groups on the eastern front that were commanded by Jews (although many took Russian names) and there were active partisan groups even in western Europe (including an active group in Paris). The true extent of Jewish resistance is, however, still on the cutting edge of the history of this period.

We cannot give you a quick history of Jewish resistance because of the scope of that resistance and because it is comprised on so many isolated actions. There are several good studies of Jewish resistance but a good place to start your research is They Fought Back edited by Yuri Suhl (Schocken Books; 1975). This is a collection of articles which will give you a good overview both of the resistance and the authors writing about it. Despite his statements in 1961, Hilberg in Perpetrators, Victims, Bystanders Raul Hilberg (HarperCollins; 1992) gives a very good account both of some resistance movements (especially that in Vilna) and the problems they encountered from the Jewish establishment. Finally Resistance: the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Israel Gutman (Houghton Mifflin; 1994) is an excellent recent study of that famous uprising.

I hope this helps in your research.

--Yale F. Edeiken
for The Holocaust History Project


Would you have any information as to why so many German Jews chose to ignore the rising power of Hitler (1919-1930) and why they remained in Germany? Was there any resistance on the part of the very wealthy, the intellectual and the powerful Jews who decided to remain in Germany? Thank you for your answers---your project is great! Judith Weil

Harry W. Mazal OBE Responds:

Thank you for your questions addressed to the Holocaust HistoryProject and for your kind comments:

I am one of the persons in THHP that responds to questions from our readers. It is possible that you will receive other responses from my colleagues.

While it might seem that many German Jews chose to stay in Germany after the Nazis began their harassment in 1932, the truth is that a quite significant number of them did leave Germany before 1938-1939 when it became practically impossible for the remaining Jews to emigrate. To wit:


Emigration From Germany


At the time of the Nazi takeover in 1933, there were over 500,000 Jews in Germany. Initially, the Nazis encouraged emigration and placed few restrictions on the amount of property Jews could take with them. Over time, however, the German government imposed ever increasing emigration taxes and restrictions on the amount of money which could be transferred abroad from Germany. By November, 1938, about 150,000 Jews (30% of the original population) had left Germany. After Kristallnacht , an additional 150,000 left. The following table from the Encyclopedia Judaica details the countries to which these Jews emigrated:

United States                            63,000  
Palestine                                  55,000  
Great Britain                             40,000  
France                                      30,000  
Argentina                                  25,000  
Brazil                                        13,000  
South Africa                                5,500 
Italy                                            5,000 
Other European Countries           25,000  
Other South American Countries  20,000  
Far Eastern Countries                 15,000  
Other                                           8,000 
Total                                        304,500       


I would argue that a significant number of Jews were able to get out of Germany. Many of the Jews that left were wealthy, intellectual and (I hesitate to use the word) powerful. Most were ordinary people who were lucky enough to find refuge abroad.

Bear in mind that German Jews were the most assimilated Jews in Europe. They considered themselves Germans first and Jews second. A higher percentage of German Jews fought in WWI than that of any other ethnic, religious or political group in Germany. Why should they abandon what they thought to be their homeland?

There is another factor that must be taken into account. Even had all of the Jews in Germany (or Europe for the matter) decided to leave for other countries, where would, or could, they have gone? Strict and unrealistic immigration quotas existed in the U.S. and other countries, antisemitism was rampant in others. Jews were clearly not welcome anywhere. You need only be acquainted with Breckenridge Long, a high level member of the State Department in Roosevelt's Government, to know that immigration, especially of Jews, was nearly impossible in the years leading to WWII.

One of the most shameful acts was the turning away of the SS (Steam Ship) St. Louis by both the Cuban and the Americans. The ship. filled with German Jews escaping the Nazis was returned to Germany with everyone aboard. Needless to say, most of the passengers perished in the death camps. (See Voyage of the Damned, below).

Many attempts to flee Germany ended in disaster when the emigrants were unable to find a safe haven. Boats carrying German Jews to Cubs, the U.S. and other countries were turned away and forced to return to Germany with awful consequences for the passengers.

You might wish to document yourself further by reading some of the excellent books available in most good libraries:

From Boycott to Annihilation
Avraham Barkai
c. 1989, Brandeis University Press

Between Dignity and Despair
Marion Kapland
c. 1998, Oxford University Press

The German Public and the Persecution of the Jews
Jorg Wollenberg (Editor)
c. 1996, Humanities Press

The Jews and Germany
Enzo Traverso
c. 1995, Nebraska University Press

Germany's Stepchildren
Solomon Liptzin
c. 1944, JPA

Hitler's Exiles
Mark Anderson (Editor)
c. 1998, New Press

The Jews of Germany
Ruth Gay
c. 1992, Yale University Press

Displaced German Scholars
Nathan Kravetz (Editor)
c. 1993, Borgo Press

The War Diary of Breckenridge Long
Fred Israel (Editor)
c. 1966, University of Nebraska Press

Voyage of the Damned
Gordon Thomas
c. 1974, Stein & Day

I hope that this brief message helps you find an answer to your questions.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

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